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Pandemic Relief Program Left Many California Renters Struggling

Blake Phillips is pretty sure he did everything right, which makes it all the more baffling to the Los Angeles resident that he slowly went broke, lost his restaurant business and was eventually forced to move out of his home and in with friends.

He did all this while waiting for pandemic rental relief from the state of California, which, though promised and approved, has still not arrived.

“I went from being a small business owner, middle class, paying my bills, to being completely wiped out,” Phillips said. “I lost everything because of the rent program.”

The program in question was operated by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), and it was designed specifically to protect both renters and landlords during the worst of the COVID-19 emergency. As businesses were forced to close, rendering many workers jobless and suddenly behind on their payments, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) was created early in 2021 to fill the financial gaps.

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Tenant Groups Reach Settlement With State Of California Over Applicants Stuck In Rent Relief Limbo

Los Angeles tenant groups announced Monday they have settled their lawsuit against the state of California over how housing department officials handled the state’s rent relief program.

The deal gives tenants another chance to have their rent relief application reviewed or to appeal a denial. An estimated 331,000 L.A. area households remain behind on rent, and many of them are now facing possible eviction.

“Hopefully, people who were quickly denied in the past will actually be approved when the state is forced to look a little bit closer,” said Legal Aid Foundation of L.A. attorney Jonathan Jager. He worked on the legal team that brought the lawsuit forward on behalf of L.A.-based tenant group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, statewide advocacy organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and national research institute PolicyLink.

During the pandemic, California’s Housing Is Key program came under fire for being difficult to access, or even understand, especially for low-income tenants who didn’t own computers or speak English. The lawsuit sought to address those disparities, and get eligible tenants connected to the relief they were promised.

California rent relief is still available for thousands of tenants who were denied COVID assistance

More than 100,000 California tenants whose applications for COVID-era rental assistance were denied or delayed by the state’s housing department will get another shot at relief, thanks to a new legal settlement between the state and a coalition of anti-poverty and tenant rights groups.

More aid isn’t guaranteed. But under the terms of the settlement signed at the end of last month, California’s Housing and Community Development Department agreed to audit its past denials and improve multilingual access for tenants who don’t speak English as a first language.

It also agreed to flesh out the appeal process for applicants and provide more detailed explanations when it denies an application. And it committed to providing more data on the race, ethnicity and location of those who were denied help.

California’s housing department received $5.2 billion in federal relief funds in 2021 to help struggling tenants keep up with rent while the state’s economy ground to a halt during the height of the pandemic. The program ended in March 2022.

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Homelessness Prevention Act Passes Senate Judiciary with Leadership Majority

Sacramento (Calif.) — Today a major step forward to stem the rise of homelessness and protect California renters and tenants —the Homelessness Prevention Act (SB 567) authored by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles)—passed through the Senate Judiciary committee with a leadership majority. As evictions rise and homelessness increases, SB 567 responds to the lived experience millions of California’s renters face by strengthening The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (AB 1482) to protect families from falling into homelessness. Hundreds of our neighbors who rent in California—including labor, advocates, and faith leaders—gathered at the state capitol to tell their stories and voice their strong support of SB567. The Homelessness Prevention Act closes easily exploitable loopholes used by unscrupulous corporate landlords and provides enforcement tools that protect our neighbors—workers, families, and seniors—from arbitrary evictions and displacement. 

The Homelessness Prevention Act is being co-sponsored by ACCE, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, PICO California, Public Advocates, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. With over 250 diverse organizations supporting the bill, this powerful coalition is led by a steering committee composed of the co-sponsors as well as Housing Now!, Inner City Law Center, the Million Voters Project, PolicyLink, and Tenants Together, united in an effort to make housing affordable and disrupt the displacement crisis that is disproportionately impacting working class communities of color. 

“I want to thank our community and partners for working diligently with us to pass a key policy vote. SB 567 is committed to closing existing loopholes in state tenant protections law and ensuring it is enforced,” said Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles).  “These are key components to advance as we seek to proactively address the state homelessness humanitarian crisis, by keeping our families in their homes. I look forward to continuing to see this measure move ahead.”

“As a single mom of two kids that is currently receiving a no-fault ‘substantial renovation’ eviction for a plumbing job that only takes a few days, passing Senate Bill 567 feels like a life and death situation for me. If we are not allowed to return to our home at the rent amount we had paid before our plumbing was repaired, we will likely be homeless. Everyone deserves safe, healthy and affordable housing – and that means repairs without rent hikes or evictions. I am grateful that the Senate Judiciary committee took an important step forward towards realizing that value today, and at ACCE we look forward to working with legislators to lower the rent cap moving forward.” – Patricia Mendoza, leader with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), resident of Imperial Beach

“For our low-income rural and farmworker clients, this bill provides vital improvements to the Tenant Protection Act and we are pleased that the measure approved by the Judiciary Committee retains critical provisions to close loopholes in the Act that have left too many of our clients vulnerable to eviction,” said Brian Augusta, Legislative Advocate, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

“SB 567 passing means that my family doesn’t have to fear our landlord kicking us out onto the streets just to raise rents. These protections give us the peace of mind to know our home is safe from predatory landlords exploiting loopholes in AB 1482.” Alejandra Velasco, leader with Faith in the Valley, a PICO California Federation, resident of Taft.

“There’s never a dull moment in the legislature. A last minute agreement helped move this bill forward, unfortunately without the rent cap,” said Michelle Pariset, Director of Legislative Affairs, Public Advocates. “Closing the loopholes in just cause protections will benefit millions of California renters and we need to make these laws enforceable. We’re excited for the next step.”

California legislators must use every tool available to keep people housed as we’re facing a housing and homelessness crisis. The passage of this bill is a step in that direction to prevent unjust evictions. We look forward to working with legislators on advancing key enforcement protections,” said Tina Rosales, policy advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty.

In order to address California’s growing affordable housing and homelessness pandemic our state’s leadership must first prevent more community members from being unhoused; creating stronger renter protections that help every Californian have access to safe shelter is one cost-effective solution. As inflation soars and state and local eviction protections enacted during the pandemic come to an end, the gaps in existing state protections are impacting more and more renters, who are facing significant rent increases and a spike in “no fault” evictions. The Homelessness Prevention Act will provide critical safeguards to stop abuses and ensure that renters can stay in their homes.

We hope our elected leaders will partner with Senator Durazo to help keep families housed and our diverse communities together.


Additional Resources: SB 567 Homelessness Prevention Act Fact Sheets are available in Armenian, Chinese, English, Filipino, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.  

California can’t deny pending applications for rent relief while its denials are under review, judge says

“That hearing will probably take place in September, said attorney Lorraine Lopez of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of the organizations representing the renters. During the interim, Lopez and her colleagues said, nearly 100,000 households will be entitled to rental benefits without interference by the department.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Judge Orders CA Dept of Housing & Community Development to Stop Denying State Rental Assistance Applications Until Further Review


The court agreed that HCD denied applications without meaningful explanation or a transparent appeals process

Oakland, CA – An Alameda County court has sided with tenant advocates and ordered California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) not to deny any pending rental assistance applications until the court can determine if HCD’s process meets constitutional due process standards. The court concluded that HCD may be violating the constitutional rights of tenants who applied to the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) by failing to provide an adequate process for tenants to challenge denials.

“Over the past few months, I’ve worked with hundreds of tenants who received a denial with little to no explanation and are terrified about losing their homes. I’m just so relieved to see the judge take action to address this problem, and to give families a fighting chance to receive the rent relief they are due,” said Patricia Mendoza, Organizer at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

The court also paused the 30-day deadline for tenants to appeal denials, meaning denials issued will not become final. It’s estimated the decision could impact nearly 100,000 tenant households across the state, including those who still have applications pending and those who had their appeals denied. The court’s order does not prevent HCD from approving pending rental assistance applications, including those on appeal.

“At SAJE, we have helped over 300 tenants through our Emergency Rental Assistance Program Clinics; many have still not heard back, or were denied for ‘lack of response,’” said Mateo Gil, Community Organizer at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). “There was even a case where a tenant in need was denied for a lack of lease when they had a verbal rental agreement. SAJE and the Keep LA Housed Coalition are working hard to ensure our communities, many undocumented, get their applications processed. Thousands of households are still at risk of eviction, and many of those are possibly going to fall into homelessness without stronger permanent protections now and after the pandemic.”

Last month, ACCE and SAJE, along with research and action institute PolicyLink, filed a lawsuit against HCD for administering ERAP in an opaque and discriminatory way and for refusing to provide adequate explanation to tenants who were denied assistance. Yesterday, a judge agreed that the denial notices HCD sent out are too vague, that applicants have no meaningful way to appeal, and that HCD indefensibly refused to tell applicants which of their documents led to denial. The tenant organizations are represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

“Too often, tenants have been wrongfully denied rental assistance that they are eligible for. It is crucial to prevent further denials and existing denials from becoming final until HCD gives tenants the information that they need to challenge a wrongful denial,” said Nisha Kashyap, Supervising Staff Attorney for Consumer Rights and Economic Justice at Public Counsel.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created to keep vulnerable tenants housed amid the ongoing economic fallout from the pandemic, but it has been the target of multiple lawsuits challenging how the program was designed and implemented. Advocates point to the latest comprehensive numbers released from the state, which show that as of June 23 2022, 157,881, or 33 percent, of the reviewed applications were denied, putting tens of thousands of people at risk of eviction now that the state’s eviction protections have expired. California received $5.2 billion in federal funds and HCD was charged with creating an application process, screening tenants for eligibility, and distributing the funds.

“We have to keep people housed,” said Madeline Howard, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “That’s why we filed this lawsuit — the program was created to prevent evictions but falls woefully short. We are very pleased that the judge ordered HCD to stop denying tenants with this unfair system.”


Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is a nonprofit law firm that seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change, and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses, and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

Public Counsel is a nonprofit law firm and the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. It serves communities locally and nationwide by advancing civil rights litigation, advocating for policy change and providing free legal services to thousands of clients annually.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.